before the dawn comes

I’ve always wondered what it must have been like to live in that nauseous limbo between the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to wake up with the image of a limp and bloodied messiah (though maybe…false messiah?) etched into my vision without the healing salve of resurrection to bring significance and peace to the roiling ache.

How quickly would my trust and devotion bleed out of me to join the crimson mud beneath the cross of the dead man? Would I flinch at every little sound, just waiting for the soldiers or violent crowd to begin their search for the remnants of the incendiary prophet’s followers? And if they came to my door, what would I say? Would I bathe in a desperate mixture of tears, doubt, and denial so the angel of death might pass my miserable self by?

Would I despair?

Would I allow the dark current to pull me under?

Would I be able to keep living in a world suddenly and viciously rendered absurd?

I don’t know. It seems like the only honest answer that could be given on a day of lightless uncertainty.

But then: pulse. movement, speech, rumors, hope appearance touch restoration new-life.

And there is no going back, no undoing of this stark watershed of history. We now live in the irrevocable abundance of the resurrection, flushed with the infinite wonder of redemption.

Redemption – the miracle in which darkness augments the beauty of in-breaking light, suffering produces a hope that does not disappoint, and doubt becomes an invitation to venture trembling fingers into eternal scars of love.

Holy Saturday is a day to dwell on silence. For me, it is a day to confront my fear of silence, my anxiety that God has left me on my own to muddle through life. And yet, the resurrection has come: the hushed cosmos erupting into endless praise for what God has done.

I’m reminded that even in the tortured silence of Holy Saturday God was moving to break the chains of separation and dissolve the power of death.

So when I find myself wounded, sitting in a too-quiet room with a disquieted mind wondering why or why not, I can cling to the comfort that such doubt is not a shameful, disturbing departure from Christian life but is and always has been a part of our history. The question is, though, whether or not I will be faithful and keep my eyes and ears open even in the midst of the intense darkness or struggle because I have the promise that God has not, will not ever, abandon me and that some day, whether tomorrow or in eternity, I will see what beauty he was working in and through me and will be in awe of it all.

Easter Sunday doesn’t dismiss the anguish of Holy Saturday, but gives it purpose and direction. The resurrection doesn’t negate the suffering of life, but gives us the strength to declare that even in the throes of our suffering there is hope and the beauty of redemption; tear-choked voices can find a song, bruised feet can learn to dance, and weary hearts can beat with passion.

A day of silence, a day of pain, a day of honesty, a day of hope.

Blessings.

Jordan

nailed it

Brent Bailey, the wonderful guy who writes the wonderful blog Odd Man Out, recently posted three heartwarming examples of how his friends “got it right,” specific stories of being treated so correctly that they stuck with him. He then asked a few of us to post something similar, and seeing as how I love what he writes I pretty much had to do it.

1. Camping

What happened: A large group of my guy friends had planned an international (ok, we were just going to Canada) camping trip that would take us to a remote island for a week. A friend and I needed to wait an extra day because I’m an idiot and left my passport at home 2500 miles away and it had to be Fed-Exed to me. As my friend (this friend) and I talked, I commented on how bummed I was that my accountability partner/one-of-my-absolutely-closest-friends flew home and wouldn’t be able to come to Canada with us. (I mean, come on, Canada has toffee and jell-o-in-a-cup and vast expanses of wastelandic nothingness, how coud he say no?!) The friend I was with, who knew I was gay, interrupted me and said, “Hey, you know he loves you a ton, right?” “I mean, yea, I know that.” “No, but listen. Before he left he told me to make sure to look out for you, and to be aware that when the guys decide to strip naked and jump over the fire or something I should go over and just talk to you. He made me promise to be there for you. Which is stupid because I was going to do that anyway!”

How he got it rightThey both were winners in my book, but I want to focus on the guy who had to go home. At that time of my life I struggled immensely to know if he really cared or not. He was the first friend I told I was gay in person and had been with me through the whole, slow, agonizing process of coming to grips with my sexuality, and therefore bore much (too much) of the weight of my anxiety. This small revelation made me feel overwhelmingly seen and loved in a relationship often punctuated by uncertainty and tortured invisibility. His comment showed that he took our relationship seriously, that he was thinking and learning and growing with me. We ended up not going camping anyway because of a certain, now-notorious, explosive incident that required a trip to the ER and some minor surgery, but the excitement of being known, of being carried in the hearts and minds of my friends even when we weren’t in the room together was a gift I haven’t forgotten.

2. Pillow Talk

What happened: My freshman year of college, while I was still deep enough in the closet to have one foot in Narnia, I went to a friend’s house for Easter. I instantly noticed there were no sleeping bags laid out in his room, and sure enough when night-time rolled around he simply asked if I wanted the left or right side of the bed. I tentatively chose the left side, unsure if there were, you know, rules to this or something. He slept with his arm draped across my chest, which was nice and not awkward but made it rather tricky when I woke up and needed to go to the bathroom really bad. Four years and an email saying I’m attracted to men later, I’m crashing at his apartment for a few nights. Still no sleeping bags. Left side. Arm across my chest as we talk late into the night.

How he got it rightHe’s always been a deeply affectionate friend, and I had no doubt he would still love me, but there’s this lurking fear that once straight guys know you are gay they’ll shy away from physical affection or closeness. Yet he displayed the same warmth and intimacy as before with the ease of someone who wouldn’t even have considered the possibility of treating me any differently in that regard. Having a friend like him is just one more nail in the coffin of my anxiety and fear.

3. Casual

What happenedI’ve mentioned this before, but at a recent wedding reception I was sitting next to a very dear friend who, during a lull in our conversation, asked if I was often attracted to people of different ethnicities. It was the first time anyone who knew I was gay had asked me for specifics about what I found beautiful, who talked about attraction in a way that included me and my experiences. The conversation shifted from that topic to others with ease, helped by a steady flow of sparkling apple cider, sometimes touching on my sexuality, sometimes not. Eventually we wound up talking about Harry Potter or something (as we always do), and that was that.

How she got it right: She treated the fact of my homosexuality like any other part of my experience and allowed me the privilege of being able to, finally, talk about my attractions concretely without having to lie (the answer, by the way, is yes, far more often than being attracted to people of my own ethnicity). Coming off of a summer in which my sexuality dominated my daily life and was a perpetual source of debate, she gave me a much needed reminder that my same-sex attraction could come and go in a conversation without shoving everything off center stage. It was a small thing, but it felt like a spell was lifted and I could finally see myself without the cursed distortion of being controversial.

So those are just a few – I have many, many more examples just as life-giving. If you’ve experienced anything like this, please tell us the story! Lord knows we could always use a bit more encouragement in our days.

Jordan

other

Sometimes I forget that I’m gay.

Seriously. I’ll just be walking around, doing my thing, thinking about coffee or tennis or sleep or whatever, and suddenly:

Wait a second, I’m attracted to guys. Woah.

Then I resume my espresso daydream and life goes on. I probably don’t need to explain why such an occurrence is a little odd.

I mean, I’m going to just assume that straight people don’t know what it’s like to spend all day worrying over how straight they feel and wondering if other people can tell. “Oh crap, a beautiful woman! Was I staring? I think I was. Was someone watching me stare? Everyone must have noticed my eyes dilate. That man over there looks like he’s judging me. Great, now I have to leave the country…” “Did I play this sport too competently? Ugh, I hate myself…” “That old woman said she had a niece I should meet… does she think I like girls? How did she find out? Oh god, what if she tells my mom?” “Maybe if I just wear scarves and skinny-jeans no one will question my sexuality.”

But I could be wrong.

Either way, I used to be entirely preoccupied with image-control. I was almost always aware that I didn’t quite fit in and, therefore, pathologically tried to disguise that otherness, certain that should people find out I was gay the internal isolation that scraped and slithered around my brain would become an external reality and encompass me.

But a couple things are happening now: I am feeling less “other,” and my otherness is slowly shedding the fear and stigma of its youth.

I am not saying I expect, or even hope, to ever be “non-other”. Not at all. So long as I’m attracted to men, and so long as the late Jerry Fallwell’s elite team of ninjas succeeds in stopping President Obama’s diabolical plan to infect America’s drinking water with the gay gene, I will experience the otherness that comes from being a sexual minority until I die. However, such difference is no longer an inevitable occasion for anxiety because it is starting to reveal its role in the grand unfolding of God’s grace in my life.

(It is necessary to say that, even though I will be referring to “otherness” in the abstract, I can really only speak to my particular experience as an evangelical Christian man attracted to men – which is a reality that doesn’t externally mark me for marginalization. More than that, I happen to have inherited almost every other kind of socio-cultural privilege imaginable, which has, I am sure, significantly diminished the potency of my experience with “otherness.” While I may find myself occasionally camping in the margins, I do so with a $500 tent.)

The reason I’m even commenting on these brief flashes of “unawareness” or whatever-it-is, of not being consumed with feelings of “otherness,” is because this is the last place I expected to experience something like this. I flew down to Central America alone, re-entered “la bodega”, and have daily come up against rampant and incessant homophobia from the teenage boys I live with (and Central America’s machismo culture in general) – a recipe for angst and feeling super-gay and isolated. And yet…

I’m intrigued by the fact that I can feel so at home in my body while in a context where, honestly, I think bad things would happen if it got out that I’m gay. I’m experiencing almost-ideal self-perception in regard to my sexuality* in a less-than-ideal environment to be gay because, I think, they do one thing really well at the orphanage: work with the kids through diverse gifts and histories. I may not be “out” here, but the fact that I’m gay, and the way I’ve grown and deepened because of that fact,** has enabled me to serve these kids in a manner that is different from other staff members and yet still important and valued – namely, I tend to be more aware of how certain kids are being pushed to the fringes, more aggressive against bullying, and less rough in my behavior toward even the most obnoxious boys (one of whom, as I type, is randomly pressing buttons on my computer forcing me to engage in manic typo-prevention).

This is why I think the Church has so much to offer those attracted to the same sex.***  So many people can only dull the ache of difference by staying in communities comprised of those who are equally “other” and thus experience a kind of normativity.**** Though the Church does, in some ways, serve a similar function, it does not do so through the normalization or flattening of otherness; the Gospel is not about homogenization (this is one reason I think we have four notoriously idiosyncratic Gospels accounts), it’s about redemption, conformation, and scandalous equality before God.

I don’t love Christian community because I get to spend time with people “just like me,” though Christ-followers do share certain unshakeable foundations. I love Christian community because it reminds me that I am united in purpose and worship with a bunch of crazy people around the world who aren’t like me at all and who reveal Christ to me in ways that would be otherwise unknown.

In this community my otherness, once an occasion for feelings of distance and loneliness, can, and should, take its rightful place as a site of revelation of the goodness and beauty of God. And thus, somehow, otherness – the multiform, embodied experience of being wrongly marginalized for one reason or another – becomes a catalyst for a more profound unity and depth. And while I hesitate to ascribe any sort of moral exceptionalism to marginalization, we must acknowledge that we serve a Christ who seemed far more at home on the dusty fringes than in the cushioned halls of privilege.

There is so, so much more to this, and I apologize for all the nuance I couldn’t include in less than 1000 words.

But I want to finish by saying that I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the Church (specifically the North American church) will become less concerned with the maintenance of social power and position and more passionate about proclaiming the Gospel through myriad stories of redemption lived out in a community dedicated to loving service of the world.

Jordan

Edit – Please do not think I am glossing over the gross sins of the church in regard to the LGBTQ community or the serious hurdles we face as we try to move forward in love. For slightly more critical posts, see What Is Love (which I think is one of the most important posts I’ve written), and Family Talk, among others.

* Almost-ideal not in that I forget that I’m gay, but in that my sexuality does not dominate my self-perception as it used to.

** Though such growth and depth are, I would say, the result of interacting with my sexuality through the primary and total filter of my Christian faith.

*** Aside from the, you know, relationship with Jesus and eternal life and all that.

**** I’m not saying such communities are bad. Not at all. In many ways they can be both necessary and life-giving. I greatly benefitted from my time in the gay student-group at Wheaton, which is but one example among many. I just don’t think they are an adequate substitute for what the church is called to be.